Wylde's Kingdom

This is a piece of my novelette "Wylde's Kingdom," which appears in Claude Lalumière's anthology from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, Tesseracts Twelve.

PILOT:

LOOK OUT FOR JIM!

Max first spied the two fanboys through the mosquito netting surrounding the bed in his nearly submerged Brazilian apartment. He was sure he had them pegged: just another couple of bottom-feeders churned up from the silt by Atlantica, who'd tracked down their hero Jim to his dank retirement here at Serra Do Mar Bay. They'd kicked in the door, true. But Jim fans had done far weirder things in Max's experience.

One fanboy had an acoustic-guitar case slung over his shoulder. "Either of you know ''Girl from Ipanema?'" Max asked. Although it wasn't what he was going for, they both laughed appreciatively.

The two introduced themselves as Dan and James, and, as James pointed out, James was another name for Jim. James was the one carrying the guitar case, and he set it down on the floor and opened it while Dan explained in detail just how much Max's work as Jim on Wylde's Kingdom had meant to him. Trying to be polite, Max noted he had put on a little weight since then and didn't think he could do the stuff Jim had done anymore. Just as politely, James pointed out that was one of the reasons they were here. "You have put on a few pounds there, Jim," agreed Dan.

Then Max heard a click, followed by a whine that sounded like a vacuum cleaner cycling up. James stuck his head up. He was holding a narrow plastic hose that ended in a gleaming steel needle. A hissing whistle came from its tip, and Max realized what his dormant survival instinct had been trying to tell him since they showed: these guys weren't fanboys at all -- or, at least, not just fanboys. They were professionals: barrio cosmetic surgeons, the very worst kind.

Max stirred, trembling toward thoughts of escape.

Years ago, back when he was a regular on Wylde's Kingdom, and his day consisted of garrotting gorillas and chainsawing rampaging elephants, that instinct would have seen him clear. It would have thrown Max out of bed and had him halfway to the door before the fanboy-surgeons had a chance to react. If one of them had managed to grab him, he probably could have wrestled the needle of the AbSucker away from him and jammed it into one fannish orifice or another to break the hold and made it to the door and dived off the balcony into the bay in the span of a dozen heartbeats.

But not these days. Max had put on a lot of weight -- two-fifty sounded about right, and three hundred wouldn't really have surprised him -- and he hadn't exactly been physically active during his voluntary convalescence here. So when he grabbed at the needle, the fan pulled it out of the way easily, and speckles of dizziness darkened Max's vision before he could do anything about it.

"Don't stress yourself," said Dan, who was holding the second hose-and-needle assembly from the AbSucker in one hand. It was hissing, too. Before Max could do anything more, he felt a sharp pain on his left side, and he realized James had managed to skewer him in the love handle. Max felt another prick on his right handle. The AbSucker's motor whined as it started to work on both sides of him, siphoning off eight months of accumulated lipids like they were a milkshake.

James tried to be apologetic. He explained that, usually, they'd have him onto their boat in Rio, and if he wanted he could even have had a general anaesthetic and in just under an hour woken up eight months younger, with none of this painful and clearly disturbing fuss. They would have given him a mint.

"But we were under instructions," said Dan.

"Just doing what our boss tells us," said James.

"Your boss?" gasped Max.

James looked down at his own T-shirt, which was emblazoned with a scan of Jerry Wylde, ubiquitous pith-helmet covering his hairless scalp and his antique Sharps hunting rifle slung over one narrow shoulder. Dan looked over at it, too, then back at Max. Dan nodded, his open-mouthed grin an eerie parody of the one Wylde sported on the shirt.

"Our boss and yours," said Dan.

The AbSucker made an ugly whup! sound as something thick passed through the orifice. The way Max was feeling, he thought it might be a testicle.

"Mr. Wylde wanted everything to be just right," explained James. "He wanted you to 'recontextualize.'"

"And he said you needed to have an 'adequate sense of danger,'" said Dan.

"Yeah," agreed James. "Those were his exact words. 'Recontextualize.' 'An adequate sense of danger.' Mr. Wylde says that's when you're at your best."

The three of them were quiet for a moment -- James and Dan contemplating the words of the master, Max contemplating the sagging flesh below his ribcage. The noise from the guitar case shifted from suck to slurp, like the milkshake was finished, and James snapped out of it.

"Shit!" he yelled, and reached down and flipped off the machine. "Almost got your liver," he said as the sucker cycled down. When Max didn't laugh, Dan patted him on the shoulder.

"Joke, Jim," he said.

The wind picked up then, and the broken door swung open. Dan hurried to close the door against the returning rage of Atlantica, and Max shut his eyes.

"I'm not Jim," he whispered.


To be continued....

.Copyright 2008, All Rights Reserved, David Nickle